Tracy Williams
Director, Reimagining Capitalism

Why We Invested: The Workers Lab Innovation Fund

October 18, 2019

Healthy economies, societies, and democracies are only possible when workers are empowered to bargain for better job outcomes and access their fair share of economic success. Unfortunately, in the US, workers’ ability to negotiate for improved wages and working conditions has eroded dramatically, leading to stagnant incomes, job insecurity, and meager employee benefits.

Historically, unions enabled American workers to have a strong voice at work, but unions are now struggling to maintain influence and power. Union membership in the US dropped from 20 percent in 1983 to 11 percent in 2017. Policies like “Right To Work” laws and the recent Janus decision that prohibits forced union dues have further destabilized traditional worker organizations.

To help reverse these troubling trends, we need to support organizations that are building worker power in ways that are sustainable, scalable, and bring cross-sector partners to the table. That’s why Omidyar Network is proud to support The Workers Lab and its 2019 Fall Innovation Fund.

The Workers Lab’s mission is to invest in innovative experiments that build power for working people in the 21st century, with the goal of transforming low-wage industries and rebuilding the American middle class. They support promising organizations — both nonprofits and for-profit enterprises — through the innovation lifecycle: providing funding to test new ideas, advising leaders on business models and how to scale, providing deep partnership and advisory support for landmark projects, and promoting worker voice in narratives in the media and with partners.

The Innovation Fund is one of their landmark initiatives. Since its founding in 2014, it has invested $2.5 million in more than 20 promising organizations. This fall, the Innovation Fund will focus on identifying promising approaches to building sustained worker power at scale — focusing especially on approaches that do so by employing thoughtful revenue generation strategies and by effectively leveraging non-profit, for-profit, and public sector partnerships. The hope is to surface innovations that have the ability to scale beyond their place or industry of origin and sustain themselves beyond charity, while also building meaningful worker power.

We hope that identifying and empowering these innovations will help them continue to grow and scale. Ultimately, we believe these innovations — and the organizations behind them — will centrally contribute toward building a stronger future for workers that is productive, fulfilling, and where all workers get a fair share of the profits they help produce. That’s the future Omidyar Network believes in — one where dignified work enables dignified lives.

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